GAA president Jarlath Burns vows to tackle under the table payments

Jarlath Burns began his three-year term as GAA president at Saturday's annual Congress in Newry. Picture by Sportsfile
GAA Congress Jarlath Burns began his three-year term as GAA president at Saturday's annual Congress in Newry. Picture by Sportsfile (SPORTSFILE)

JARLATH Burns has been around long enough, both as player and administrator, to know how cheap talk can be.

The under the table payment of managers and coaches that compromise the GAA’s amateur ethos, the spiralling costs of inter-county set-ups as the race to the top ramps up. These were the hot topics in the hour or so after the Silverbridge man finally stepped from the shadows to begin his term as Uachtarain.

Previous presidents have also vowed to tackle the elephant in the room, and to restore the Association to something approaching the ideals upon which it is founded. Yet the runaway train has only continued to gather pace.

The former Armagh captain is well aware that he cannot solve everything inside a three-year term. Burns has recently found himself reflecting on 10 years as principal of St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook and wondering what change he had overseen, relative to what was hoped for at the outset.

But after the low-key approach adopted by predecessor Larry McCarthy, Burns clearly intends shaking a few trees.

He has established a new amateur status committee, led by Derry man David Hassan. And, after Saturday’s inauguration, spoke about trying to tackle one of the foremost issues in the GAA.

“I am not going to adhere to the ‘we couldn’t even find the table’ thing – the table is a lot easier to find now,” said the 56-year-old.

“The world has changed significantly and I say that having been born and reared in a cash economy in south Armagh. People are finding it has changed, we are now cashless in most of our county grounds and most of our ticketing.

“Even the companies that are doing that and are doing it for all the good reasons, very soon they are going to be asked questions about where that money is going and the people to whom they are giving it are going to be asked questions.

“Is it best practice for us to know that this is happening and we are not doing something about it? The easiest thing for me to do is nothing but it’s not an option, we have to try this. I can assure you, if I fail, I will certainly fail with my boots on.

“I will give it my best shot, but I can’t ignore this.”

And, even when it comes to reining in the current demands of the inter-county scene, Burns doesn’t accept that the horse has already bolted.

“I think that would be a counsel of despair if we were to approach it from that angle.

“I don’t think we have a choice here - there is nobody really to blame here, but everybody is to blame. If you’re in a high performance culture you’ll do everything you can to try and get one over your opponents.

“We have to be adults in the room here, we have to be the people who are leading. Our counties are asking us to lead, and if every county knew there was a very robust system of ensuring that every county was doing as we told them to do, this can succeed.

“The key people here are the GPA, because the GPA have been telling us for years that there is an intolerable cardiovascular load on our county players, who all have to go to work in the morning and it’s impacting them.

“Forget about the costs, all the ESRI reports, are telling us that as well. The GPA are the players’ union and I will work very closely with Tom Parsons... Tom and the GPA are totally behind us on this.

“I think that the panels are too large, that there’s too much training going on and that would be a good start, because we do have to step ourselves down as we prepare for integration.

“It would be grossly irresponsible from a fiscal and player welfare, and amateur status, perspective if we continue like this.”